In their desperation to continue breathing, the powers that be turn to the least likely source for help: The only two private detectives in space, Guileford McTaggart and DeLazarus Page.
If you've lost it, they'll find it. If you suspect it, they'll confirm it. If you need it, they'll get it. If you want it gone, they'll make it go away. All of this, and more, satisfaction guaranteed* for a competitive rate plus expenses.
Axis Station could not be in safer hands.
*Your satisfaction may vary. Show Less
There are over eight thousand police, security staff, detectives and patrol officers in AxSec. They’re grunts. They deal with everything that reasonable people would expect from a police service – homicide, theft, organised crime, cats stuck in ventilation shafts.
Above AxSec, there’s something in the order of fifteen hundred Axis Armed Forces personnel attached to the barracks in the East Wing. I don’t know why. They must do something. Probably they help out with the cats.
Above them still, there’s a few dozen Enforcer agents. Some people say they’re cyborgs, some people say they have supernatural powers, others still say they don’t exist at all. The truth is probably mixed in there somewhere.
Axis’ hierarchy ends with the powerbrokers on The Board. Not many people below deck ten like the folks on the Board. They keep the place running smoothly, but they're in it for the money. They’re like bad, but rich, parents, happy to pay someone else to look after their children.
There’s a reason I’m taking you all through this, of course. I need to make sure you understand exactly what I'm trying to say. What I’ve described, from the bottom up, is the pecking order pyramid of law enforcement here on Axis. So take a moment to picture that pyramid, AxSec down below, the Board up the top. Imagine the most bottom part of the most bottom level that you can. Now, if you’ll indulge me, imagine a level below even that.
Label this level 'Private Detective', perhaps imagine an illustration of a donkey with my face on its arse next to it, and you’ll get an idea of the kind of esteem that my name carries around here.‘Private Eye’ is like the drunk guy you knew from university that insists on showing up uninvited to all the dinner parties wearing a T-shirt emblazoned ‘my other truncheon is my penis’.
And so, here we are. We’re tolerated by some, loathed by others and the rest steer clear altogether. We scrape out a living on whatever comes our way. If you’ve lost it, we’ll find it. If you suspect it, we’ll confirm it. If you need it, we’ll get it. If you want it gone, we’ll make it go away. All of this and more, satisfaction guaranteed, for a competitive flat rate plus expenses. Conditions may apply. Your satisfaction may vary.
My name is Guileford McTaggart. I am one of only two private detectives on Axis Station.
My partner’s name is DeLazarus Page.
And at the moment, he is doing his best to destroy us once and for all.
“Just put it down – very slowly – and take a few steps backward,” Guileford said to his partner, hand gracing the baton sheathed at his hip. Silence took the office, as though any device that might make a noise didn't dare to. The two combatants locked eyes, each trying to win a war of retinas and claim an early victory before the situation got out of hand.
“I’m not putting anything down,” Page replied, arms unmoving. His long dark hair hung low, like fingers clawing at his eyes. “I’m doing this for our own good. You want me to put it down? You’re going to have to force me.”
Guileford wanted desperately to blink but fought the urge away, flexing his hand around the grip of his truncheon instead. They’d spent a long time building what little reputation that they had. Months of work, months of fighting their way from the bottom of the pile to ‘just slightly above the bottom of the pile’, months of sweat, and blood while they were at it – all about to be swept away in the space of a second.
He wouldn’t allow it.
“Don’t think I won’t force you, partner,” he said. “We’ve come a long way together, but I’m serious: one move and you’ll wake up three weeks from now. On Mars. Now, for the last time: put the coin down and step away.”
“Never!” Page said, teeth bared and hair bristling. On his thumb and forefinger was still perched the coin, ready to flip at any moment. “You agreed to this,” he hissed, voice little more than air. “We made a deal.”
“Deals can be broken,” Guileford said, a drop of sweat collecting on his eyebrow.
The rhythmic thumping of their antiquated ceiling fan seemed to be measuring the passing of time, the only thing keeping the silence between them from stretching into eternity. Each recurring beat seemed to take longer than the last to arrive. He hoped it wasn't broken.
“McTaggart & Page – Private Detectives is not good enough,” Page was keeping a calm tenor. He must have been raging on the inside, burning with determination and excitement and anxiety and everything else that comes with a standoff. His steady brown eyes, however, were giving nothing away. “We need a change.”
“I’m telling you,” Guileford took a step closer and Page mirrored him with a step back, “that we will be a total laughing stock if we change that name. We are already a laughing stock. If you think nobody takes us seriously now, wait and see what happens if you win that coin toss. We’ll be fucking ruined.”
Page’s expression soured instantly. “We need something racier, sexier and more powerful. You agreed. You said I could come up with ideas. I have.”
“Yours is not an idea, it is a travesty,” Guileford kept his breathing even. He was up against it. He couldn’t get around the fact that he had given Page permission to try and think up a name. It had been a momentary lapse in judgement that was now biting him painfully in the arse.
“How can you say that?” Page demanded. “It’s miles better than yours!”
“Mine is simple, to-the-point and classy. Yours makes us sound like characters in a campy science fiction adventure.”
“I’m going to do it,” Page said, lifting his coin-hand a little higher. Guileford’s heart missed exactly one beat, which the ceiling fan filled in for him. “I’m going to flip it. And whoever wins the toss gets naming rights. That’s the way we agreed. That’s how it’s going to play out.”
Guileford was honour-bound and bested. There was no way around this save for outright killing Page. Granted, having been an AxSec officer for eight years, he probably stood a better chance than most of pulling it off cleanly. He might even be able to frame someone else for it and take their job once they were imprisoned. That would take so much more effort than it would ultimately be worth, however, and he had a vague recollection from his policing days that murder was wrong.
A heavy rush of air escaped his lips and he moved his hand gently from the truncheon to his forehead. Page would know what that meant.
“If you win,” Page continued, “It’s ‘McTaggart & Page Investigations’.”
“If I win,” Page’s voice grew suddenly confident, “It’s ‘Page & McTaggart – Space Detectives’.”
Their future would be determined by the flip of a coin. On one side was class and respectability. On the other, pointing and laughing and, most likely, poverty. With a heavy heart and a desperate hope, he nodded.
“Heads,” he added, making sure that he had an active role in the outcome. Now, in the coming months when they were fighting over whose kidney to sell to make rent, he could say that he did everything he could to save them.
Page sucked a tooth and nodded back. In an instant it had begun. The coin was launched into the air, turning end over end in a short-lived moment of triumph over gravity. Its arc was short – almost as soon as it had been launched it was on the ground, tinkling and bouncing with the weight of a small piece of metal that carried a responsibility beyond its means. The ceiling fan thumped a beat. The coin came to rest.
They both peered at it gently as though not to scare their potential victory away.
After a few seconds it was Guileford that spoke.